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Krisana Polyotha

What I’ve learned about sound design from the world-class professionals featured in Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound

A few weeks ago, I was assigned by my lecturer to pick a video where I could strip all the sound and recreate everything. Therefore, my initial plan was to edit the video below and reconstruct the narrative.

From the video above, we get to listen to the story with the guidance of a third person through a news reporter. However, I wanted to tell the story from a first-person perspective to give a more emotional touch and connection with the character. Therefore, I went to watch a video that my lecturer recommended. It is called ‘Making Waves – Art of Cinematic Sound’. Where world-class filmmakers, sound designers and sound editors give the audience an insight into the importance of sound in films.

In the beginning, we were introduced to Walter Murch, who gives us a scientific fact about sound. He suggests that ‘sound is the first sensory we developed while in our mother’s womb.’ This shows us the importance of sound even when we can’t see and are trapped, and yet being unable to communicate to the world. The world speaks to us. 

I believe this is why George Lucas implies ‘sound conveys emotion’. It makes sense because something can scare you based on an appearance, or a loud sound can emotionally make you cry when you are young. However, it is natural for parents to grab us to their chest and start making ‘shush’ sounds, or sometimes singing or humming a lullaby for us to forget about what just happened in a previous event.

Then Steven Spielberg added, ‘our ears lead our eyes to where the story is’. Some of you might argue that light travels faster than sound, so we can see things before hearing them, which is true. However, you have to remember we live in a complex world, and we tend to either live in a jungle full of trees or tall concrete buildings. Therefore, sound can travel either through or around things faster than light. In addition, we can hear the sound 360 degrees. Whereas, when it comes to sight, we are limited to one direction. Therefore, since the beginning of human evolution, we have developed sound to be one of our defensive mechanisms to avoid predators and dangers. But now we used to communicate. I remember watching a Thai TV sitcom when I was younger, and it was an episode about an actor who didn’t want to convert to doing voice acting because he wanted more publicity on screen. He is not the type of actor who would get involved in animation. However, a situation occurs where he encounters a young boy who resembles him when he was younger. His parents are getting a divorce, and they’re constantly arguing at one point the kid was sitting in a room looking through the window and automatically, he feels despair about the whole situation.

Nevertheless, the actor who initially hated the kid ended up seeing the whole story of why the kid is a troublemaker. Then, he decided to do a voice-over about the entire situation, with his co-star. Both suggesting that the parents are arguing about what presents to buy for the kid this Christmas. Therefore, this episode has shown me the beautiful white lies of television entertainment and how vital sound is in storytelling. 

In addition, Gary Rydstrom added, ‘sound tells a story of the part is not showing you’. Without sight, we can still identify what the filmmaker is trying to tell us and how they want us to make us feel. Especially when they can’t put too many moving pictures to explain the story, they use sound as an additional tool to give us more polysemic meanings in a short amount of time. Sometimes the sound can be the leading tool, while what we see on the screen is an additional tool. As Steven Speilberg suggested earlier, ‘sound leads our eyes to where the story is’. Gary Rydstrom even cites that ‘sound allows us to go inside the head’ of the character. This means we get to understand the thoughts and feelings of the character, which is not that surprising since voice-over is a standard tool that is used a lot in comedy when a character shares a thought without moving their lips. 

Case studies: Saving Private Ryan

Steven Speilberg removed majority of the sound when the explosion hit Captain Miller because a veteran told him what happened to him when that happened to give us an insight into the character. This is very interesting because there is some form of explosion in the video I have chosen. Therefore, I might have to use this technique in my video. However, it is a different type of explosion. Nevertheless, both of them are still near-death experiences.

Additionally, Gary Rydstrom indicates, ‘where there is no score, you know it’s real’. This gave me an idea of using music effectively. I wondered if I could put some music at the beginning of the video to use it as a teaser of how the character is losing his mind slightly. However, we don’t know if there is something wrong with the monkey. He might just be an animal that wants to become extraordinary. Nevertheless, it shows he has a slight anger issue. This can mean he has bipolar or is a very passionate person. But I want to convey the story and promote the idea of Icarus in Greek mythology, a man who is too obsessed with his dream that he doesn’t care about his safety.

Nonetheless, Gary Rydstrom didn’t exclude the importance of using a score. He believes ‘score comes in to give you something to hold onto’. This is why I want my story to end the video with music. I have given a freedom task for my composer to make music for this video. I didn’t tell him what sort of music I wanted apart from the feelings I wanted to express to the audience. 

Finally, it turns out this documentary didn’t just give me an insight into the industry but also an understanding of how important sound is to storytelling and how I can use it in my career in the future. Which is interesting because this is the second time I wrote a blog about this video.

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